I'll give my bona fides up front: I am a longtime TNC reader, first-time commenter, working comedian in the Bay Area, and sexual assault survivor. The rape joke issue is old hat to women in standup -- the idea that 'rape jokes' are an edgy or unique category of comedy is belied by the fact that just about EVERY comic I know, male or female, has at least one in their repertoire. I have one about the casual use of the word 'rape' in other cultural contexts, and another about how I stopped going to church after I got raped by a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I'm OK with CK's joke, although I also agree with the letter writer.
Much of comedy is about context. There are jokes I tell in San Francisco that might get me run out of a club on the road; there are jokes I can tell in Oakland that I can't tell in San Francisco, and vice versa -- maybe 'can't tell' is overstating the case, but different jokes work in different contexts.
I've told jokes about race in San Francisco that have made me feel uncomfortable and irresponsible when an all-white audience laughs, because I wonder if they understand everything that's going on underneath the punchline. Similarly, CK's joke can probably play well in some areas, and leave him walking off the stage feeling like he just gave cover and comfort to rapists in others. This is the nature of comedy; audiences are not universal and we can't control for what they'll bring to a show.
That being said, thoughtfulness is always important, even in comedy. Comics only become good comics when their jokes are rigorous and well-tested -- it sounds completely antithetical to everything about comedy, but where CK and Morgan differ is that cruelty isn't a punchline. It can be part of a punchline, but there has to be something SURPRISING about it. Jokes operate on surprise. Although I agree with the letter-writer about rape culture, it is nonetheless improper in polite society to offer such open justification about rape; to most people it's surprising to actually hear, even if it is something lurking in all kinds of cultural shadows, even if some people will find literal validation of their own evil within it.
Conversely, ranting about gay people just isn't that surprising in many places, particularly in TN. I heard from a few friends who saw Morgan's show in SF and said that he did the same bit and got laughs -- maybe because in San Francisco, hearing an over-the-top anti-gay rant is surprising. In most of the country, however, that's not true.
Oh, and to the folks justifying Tracy Morgan by saying they heard he was just 'working out' new material: no, he wasn't. Comics 'work out' new material at open mics -- even the biggest names swing by open mics to drop new jokes -- and tiny clubs in New York and LA where they're amongst other comics who can critique them. They DO NOT work out new material whilst on national tour in front of audiences who have paid top dollar to see them. Being a comedian might seem like a barrel of monkeys, but it's a professional craft and performance like any other.
What I like about this comment is that it points to the fluid nature, across geography, of comedy. But there's also a fluidity across time.
I was, early on, extremely offended by Chis Rock's "Niggers vs. Black People" routine. I read it through an overly-political lens, which, I now think, says more about me than about the joke. My sense was that Rock conveniently papered over the ease with which black people are turned into "niggers" and vice versa. It struck me as ghetto snobbery. (I can't find the video, but I believe that's what Rock called it himself during a 60 Minutes interview.)
I now think it's a rather deft exploration of a real tension that exists among black that is tied to class, but shouldn't be understood as such. No one resents crime more than the people who live with it regularly. I also think that it was riff on the kind of tensions that virtually all people exhibit. Talk to some old heads in Chicago and they'll insist that the early black folks who came up during the Great Migration were of a better stock--hard workers, employable etc. The folks who came up in the 50s were the criminals, the unskilled and the layabouts.
It's also exhibited in white people's own tension over identity reflected in slurs like "white trash" or "redneck." I don't know much about Jews, Latinos and Asian-Americans, but I'd be shocked if it wasn't, in some way, there among them too. In short, far from denigrating, I thought the riff was incredibly humanizing in that it showed black people struggling with the same sort of identity problems that plague all groups.
Politics has an important relationship to art, but its a bad idea to read it as rote political theory. Did the act reflect some of Rock's actual feelings? I'm sure there's some of him in there. But that's the beauty of it. "I love black people, but I hate niggers," says something about us, perhaps something not so pretty, and yet beautiful. It certainly reflected some of my own frustrated private thoughts.(I really related to the "Can you kick my ass?!?!!" at the end.)
I understand why Rock stopped performing that joke--it feels like a riff made for a house full of black people. The trouble is that it's quite funny, and humor evinces little respect for our boundaries. Though I wish it were different, I can't say that I offer my full, unvarnished thoughts on black people here. I give quite a bit. But to coin a phrase, this is not a safe space for me or anyone else. We are family--but we kinda aren't.
Most people know how to help someone with a cut or a scrape. But what about a panic attack?
Here’s a thought experiment: You’re walking down the street with a friend when your companion falls and gashes her leg on the concrete. It’s bleeding; she’s in pain. It’s clear she’s going to need stitches. What do you do?
This one isn’t exactly a head-scratcher. You'd probably attempt to offer some sort of first-aid assistance until the bleeding stopped, or until she could get to medical help. Maybe you happen to have a Band-Aid on you, or a tissue to help her clean the wound, or a water bottle she can use to rinse it off. Maybe you pick her up and help her hobble towards transportation, or take her where she needs to go.
Here’s a harder one: What if, instead of an injured leg, that same friend has a panic attack?
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
The bureau successfully played the long game in both cases.
The story of law enforcement in the Oregon standoff is one of patience.
On the most obvious level, that was reflected in the 41 days that armed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. It took 25 days before the FBI and state police moved to arrest several leaders of the occupation and to barricade the refuge. It took another 15 days before the last of the final occupiers walked out, Thursday morning Oregon time.
Each of those cases involved patience as well: Officers massed on Highway 395 didn’t shoot LaVoy Finicum when he tried to ram past a barricade, nearly striking an FBI agent, though when he reached for a gun in his pocket they finally fired. Meanwhile, despite increasingly hysterical behavior from David Fry, the final occupier, officers waited him out until he emerged peacefully.
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
By mining electronic medical records, scientists show the lasting legacy of prehistoric sex on modern humans’ health.
Modern humans originated in Africa, and started spreading around the world about 60,000 years ago. As they entered Asia and Europe, they encountered other groups of ancient humans that had already settled in these regions, such as Neanderthals. And sometimes, when these groups met, they had sex.
We know about these prehistoric liaisons because they left permanent marks on our genome. Even though Neanderthals are now extinct, every living person outside of Africa can trace between 1 and 5 percent of our DNA back to them. (I am 2.6 percent Neanderthal, if you were wondering, which pales in comparison to my colleague James Fallows at 5 percent.)
This lasting legacy was revealed in 2010 when the complete Neanderthal genome was published. Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what, if anything, the Neanderthal sequences are doing in our own genome. Are they just passive hitchhikers, or did they bestow important adaptations on early humans? And are they affecting the health of modern ones?
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
The revolution that ended the reign of beards occurred on September 30, 331 b.c., as Alexander the Great prepared for a decisive showdown with the Persian emperor for control of Asia. On that day, he ordered his men to shave. Yet from time immemorial in Greek culture, a smooth chin on a grown man had been taken as a sign of effeminacy or degeneracy. What can explain this unprecedented command? When the commander Parmenio asked the reason, according to the ancient historian Plutarch, Alexander replied, “Don’t you know that in battles there is nothing handier to grasp than a beard?” But there is ample cause to doubt Plutarch’s explanation. Stories of beard-pulling in battles were myth rather than history. Plutarch and later historians misunderstood the order because they neglected the most relevant fact, namely that Alexander had dared to do what no self-respecting Greek leader had ever done before: shave his face, likening himself to the demigod Heracles, rendered in painting and sculpture in the immortal splendor of youthful, beardless nudity. Alexander wished above all, as he told his generals before the battle, that each man would see himself as a crucial part of the mission. They would certainly see this more clearly if each of them looked more like their heroic commander.
A robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, a leopard attack in India, and much more.
A murmuration of starlings over Israel, a robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, border barriers between Tunisia and Libya, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, the annual Shrovetide football match in England, a leopard attack in India, and much more.
The country’s growth is slowing. The wrong response might make the problem worse.
An anxious superpower is confounded by a troubled economy. For a generation, its growth has been envied; now that growth is decelerating sharply. For decades, it has shaped and guided its economy via tight control of its banks; now that lever is malfunctioning. For years, it has carefully managed its exchange rate and limited the flow of capital across its borders; now the dam is cracking. To anyone who keeps up with the news, the superpower would seem easy to identify: China. But for those with a long memory, it could just as well be the United States of the Nixon era.
Like China today, the United States of the 1970s experienced an abrupt economic slowdown. Its economy had expanded by 4.4 percent a year, on average, during the go-go ’50s and ’60s, but growth slowed by about one-quarter during the following decade, to 3.2 percent a year. Even though growth of more than 3 percent may sound robust by today’s standards, at the time it felt ghastly. Time magazine lamented in 1974 that “middle-class people are being pushed into such demeaning economies as buying clothes at rummage sales”; a year or so later, its cover asked, “Can Capitalism Survive?” In September 1975, after President Gerald Ford survived two attempts on his life in quick succession, an adviser named Alan Greenspan responded with a memo about the “nihilism, radicalism, and violence” that seemed to grip some Americans. When New York City flirted with bankruptcy, its plight was taken as a symbol of broader moral and cultural decay.